Bulls await Stormers in Super 14 finale
May 26, 2010
Bull-turned-Stormer Bryan Habana knows where his former side like to put their kicks © Getty Images
The last ever Super 14 final may only feature South African teams but no one could argue that the Bulls and the Stormers aren't the sides most deserving of a place in the 2010 showpiece.
It's the best attack against the best defence in the final match before the competition evolves into the expanded Super 15 format next year which will incorporate the Melbourne Rebels and change to a conference-based system.
The South African rivals finished as the top two in the regular season and confirmed their status as the cream of the crop with comprehensive wins in the semi-finals last week. The Bulls supporters uprooted and moved en masse to Soweto's Orlando Stadium, the site of Saturday's final, to cheer their men to a 39-24 win over the Crusaders while the Stormers put in a typically resolute performance in their 25-6 triumph over the Waratahs.
The semi-finals provided a snapshot of these two teams; the Bulls are 2010's top scorers by some distance and they simply accelerated away from the Crusaders in the second half, while the Stormers have conceded less than half as many points as the Bulls this season as they recorded the competition's best ever defence, giving up just 13 tries in their 14 games this year after keeping out the 'Tahs.
The Bulls certainly have the advantage of experience on their side, having won the 2007 and 2009 finals, including the only ever all-South African decider against the Sharks three years ago. They have South Africa's most capped Super Rugby captain in Victor Matfield, while Pedrie Wannenburg will register a staggering 112th appearance in the final, a Bulls record. The Pretoria-based side have 13 Super 14 champions in their starting XV, compared to just one for the Stormers, who have former Bulls stalwart and title-winner Bryan Habana on the wing.
In fact, it's the Stormers' first ever final after reaching the last four for the first time this year since 2004. It's somewhat fitting that the final will be held at a more 'neutral' venue than the Bulls' Loftus Versfeld fortress for the derby finale, although the travelling Bulls fans and their planned vuvuzela (small plastic horn) noise assault will still create a superb parochial atmosphere and should render the Stormers underdogs.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has made just one change from the Crusaders match, with leading try-scorer Gerhard van den Heever coming onto the wing for Jaco van der Westhuyzen, who drops to the bench while Stephen Dippenaar misses out.
The Bulls now have every player available except for the suspended Bakkies Botha, and their leading stars are fresh and ready after Ludeke rested his first team players in the last game of the round robin season, which was a 38-10 loss to the Stormers. Ludeke spoke of his delight at having a near full-strength team to choose from but said it would mean little if they didn't go on to claim the title. "The guys have worked very hard to get this far. We have created the opportunity to be part of something special, now we need to embrace it," he said.
Similarly, Matfield said the Bulls couldn't just fall back on their superior experience and expect to win the game. "It is good to know that the guys have been there before, but we still need to convert that into pressure and make sure that we create and use opportunities," Matfield said.
Unsurprisingly, Habana has emerged as a central figure in the build up to the game and may indeed have a more important role to play during the week than on the field itself. His inside information wasn't needed when the sides met in Round 14 because the Bulls fielded a vastly under-strength team in what was a dead rubber for them. The lack of a real contest in that match means it's hard to gauge how these teams and their contrasting styles may match up on Saturday.
Despite not facing them so far this year, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has been busy highlighting a number of key tactical challenges the Bulls present. Coetzee has been picking apart the Bulls' kicking game while publicly calling for improvement in his side's scrumming.
On Habana's input, Coetzee said, "He's been giving a lot of insight into a few things. But at the end of the day you have to go out there and play. We know what's coming our way and we're going to prepare well. We're looking forward to playing the strongest possible Bulls side. I said it to the players as well, if you want to be champs you have to go beat the Bulls and then you're worth your salt."
The Stormers are at full strength after versatile prop JC Kritzinger shrugged of a calf strain and his strength off the bench will be welcome for Coetzee, who admitted the Waratahs tired out his pack by pressuring their scrum and forcing resets.
"In some [scrums] we could have done better," Coetzee said. "In other instances, they got the hit and then took us to ground, which they must have practiced doing in order to tire us out. I don't know why we would take our own scrum down on attack. We will make the necessary adjustments and I still have to talk to (referee) Mark Lawrence. It's not going to be easy against what is a very good Bulls scrummaging pack."
Coetzee said the Bulls had the potential to kick teams into submission, particularly through high bombs which can intimidate players more than any forward.
"They have good kickers in Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner. They launch high kicks and chase very well. You have to look at ways to play in their half because they have such good kickers.
"The Bulls kick longer than any other team - the ball travels further on the Highveld, and it travels higher too. It's quite intimidating if you stand and wait for the up-and-under to come down. If you cannot handle the Bulls' aerial attack then it will be very difficult for you.
"The Bulls away, up in Joburg is going to be one helluva clash. The job is 50 percent done. I mentioned last week this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we should take the last chance to win a Super 14 because it changes next year."
Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Gerhard van den Heever, Jaco Pretorius, Wynand Olivier, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Gurthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Werner Kruger, Danie Rossouw, Victor Matfield (captain), Deon Stegmann, Dewald Potgieter, Pierre Spies
Replacements: Bandise Maku, Bees Roux, Flip van der Merwe, Derick Kuun, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jaco van der Westhuyzen, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Stormers: Joe Pietersen; Gio Aplon, Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Wicus Blaauw, Tiaan Liebenberg, Brok Harris, Adriaan Fondse, Andries Bekker, Schalk Burger (capt), Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: Deon Fourie, JC Kritzinger, Anton van Zyl, Pieter Louw, Ricky Januarie, Willem de Waal, Tim Whitehead.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Cobus Wessels, Christie du Preez